The company that makes "pink slime" suspended operations Monday at three of four plants where the beef ingredient is made, saying officials would work to address recent public concern about the product.
Beef Products Inc. will suspend operations at plants in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kan.; and Waterloo, according to Craig Letch, the company's director of food safety and quality assurance. The company's plant at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will continue operations.
"We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back," Letch said. "It's 100 percent beef."
Federal regulators say the ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.
The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
The result is a product that is as much as 97 percent lean beef, Letch said.
The product has been used for years, but it wasn't until earlier this month that social media suddenly exploded with worry and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow school districts to stop using it and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves.
About 200 employees at each of the three plants will get full salary and benefits for 60 days during the suspension, Letch said. The plant in Amarillo produced about 200,000 pounds a day, while the Kansas and Iowa plants each produced about 350,000 pounds a day.